President Trump recently proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget more than thirty percent but I have seen relatively little outrage voiced over these cuts. It seems that Americans are more concerned about the Supreme Court nomination and Trump’s ties to Russia. While they are both important issues, I expected a greater outcry about the environment since it will have a greater impact on Americans long after Trump’s nominee vacates the SCOTUS bench.
Then it occurred to me that Millennials have never known a time when the smog in LA was so thick that you could barely see the Hollywood sign from the Hollywood Freeway for the entire summer. And Baby Boomers are about the only Americans who remember the Cuyahoga River being so polluted that it literally caught on fire. So many Americans take the relatively clean condition of the United States for granted because it doesn’t seem as urgent an issue as it does to those of us who remember how badly polluted this country used to be.
But all you have to do to get an idea of what the environment could be like is to look at present-day China. It struggles with air pollution and photos of China’s water pollution show that its environment is worse than the USA ever was. But China’s central government does not regulate pollution like the EPA has for almost fifty years in the USA. So pollution goes on relatively unabated there.
Instead, capitalism has been the biggest driver of China’s pollution problems. The invisible hand of the free market generally works against a clean environment as it looks to maximize profits by minimizing the societal costs born by free enterprise. I’m as big a proponent of capitalism as the next American but I don’t deny that, although private businesses do not, the American people do bear the societal costs. And the societal cost of industry is pollution.
But as bad as I know from experience that pollution can get in the USA, it’s the least environmental concern younger Americans should have. They haven’t felt Global Warming sneaking up on them but they are the ones who will feel its impact the most in the future. Military experts say climate change poses a “significant risk” to national security, not terrorism. And although Global Mean Sea Level has risen 0.13 inches a year for the past couple of decades, that’s nothing compared to what we can expect in the years to come if we don’t curtail the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The rise of the oceans will accelerate to reach another two meters by the end of the century. Say goodbye to Miami, New Orleans, and much of Manhattan.
Yet president Trump has pledged to rip up the Paris climate agreement, which would likely lead to its demise. So it’s clear that the EPA will be getting no love from him either. Unless Americans protest cuts to the EPA, prepare for all of its good work to be undone and a slide back to the polluted states of America.